Getting a Good Start: Expectations, Challenges and Fostering Growth in the Child's First Year of Life (page 2)
In the first year of life wonderful and dramatic things happen. The baby usually triples her birth weight; she moves from being totally dependent to crawling or walking. She is soon able to communicate and to understand language, and by six months she knows her name and understands that she is a person in her own right. During the first year the baby probably accomplishes more than in any other year of her life. Each area of growth occurs in tandem with others - e.g. social and emotional with motor, communication with thinking. Milestones are flexible; they are approximate times when certain abilities are observable. There is no strict timetable for acquiring abilities or confronting different challenges, and there's a wide range for what's considered normal. Every child grows and adjusts to the world at his or her own pace. This article explores the evolving world of the child and her self discovery. Particular issues that confront parents and children such as separation anxiety and bedtime difficulties, and ways to foster growth through play and activity, should be understood in light of the developing child.
How it starts: welcome to the world
Forty-eight hours old, seven-pound six-ounce Luisa turns her head in response to the sound of a human voice.
Luisa, like all newborns, arrives ready and eager for contact. Newborns turn toward sounds and even show a preference for the human voice, especially a high pitched one. They spend nearly forty minutes of their first hour paying attention, with eyes bright, shiny, wide open and capable of fixing on objects. They are born with the ability to adjust to their new surroundings, with a remarkable set of capacities that enables them to survive. Although infants have been described as a bundle of reflexes, since they have a number of inborn automatic responses - such as sucking, snuggling and gazing at the mother's face - these reflexes help them evoke attention and care from others. Reflexes touch off reactions; as the baby searches for the nipple, sucks easily and grasps when her hand is touched, her actions evoke responses in parents. Right from the start an attachment develops between mother (or caregiver) and infant.
Other reflexes are:
- Survival reflexes - the infant breathes, blinks his eyes to protect against bright light, sucks, swallows, roots (an infant touched on the cheek will turn in that direction and look for something to suck)
- Startle pattern - the infant will startle to a sudden sharp sound
- Grasp reflex - the infant will grasp a finger that touches his palm
- Moro reflex - when startled, the infant makes an embracing motion
Some reflexes disappear within a relatively short time:
- Babinski - the infant curls her toes when the bottom of her foot is touched (disappears within the first 8 to 12 months)
- Stepping reflex - the infant when held upright so that his feet touch a flat surface will take a step (disappears in the first 8 weeks)
Infants learn to send signals when:
- they need something
- they're unhappy or uncomfortable
- they want attention and social interaction
How the adults around them respond to their signals has an effect on infants' psychological development and their trust in the world around them. Although it's helpful to talk of stages of development in specific areas, development in real life is a complicated series of interactions among areas, and complex networks are taking shape in the brain.
Social and emotional development: the foundation
Sammy, 7 months, doesn't like to eat, sleeps for short periods, screams, and is difficult to comfort when he's cranky.
Lisa, 7 months, established a regular schedule easily, is friendly, smiles readily and is eager to be sociable.
Drew, 7 months, is cautious, quiet, not physically active, and doesn't enjoy new experiences.
Obvious differences among infants can be seen right from the start. Each infant has a unique inborn temperament or typical way of reacting to the world. Some cry a lot, some are quiet, some sleep on a fairly regular schedule, others wake at irregular hours; some are constantly wriggling; others lie in their cribs quietly for long periods of time. Some are born with a tendency toward certain moods and styles of reacting to people and events in their lives. This preferred style of responding - a child's first and most natural way of reacting - is called temperament.
Temperament researchers have created three broad categories of temperament - easy, difficult, and slow-to-warm up.
- Easy children (40%) are calm, happy, regular in sleeping and eating habits, adaptable, not easily upset. Routines are quickly established
- Difficult children (10%) are often fussy, irregular in feeding and sleeping habits, fearful of new people and situations, easily upset, highstrung, and intense in their reactions
- Slow-to-warm-up children (15%) - are relatively inactive and fussy, tend to withdraw or to react negatively to novelty, but their reactions in new situations gradually become more positive with experience
- Other babies (35%) typically show a mix of the easy, difficult and slow-to-warm-up profiles
Goodness of fit
No matter what the child's temperament, it's the harmony between child and a primary caregiver that's most important. The behavior of one influences the response of the other. The special bond between infants and their caregivers is known as attachment. When the attachment is solid, the caregiver provides a secure base for the child's emotional and social growth.
Birth to 4 months:
- Even the earliest smiles and cries convey meaning
- Makes sounds or moves to get attention
- Develops a social smile; gazes at faces that are about 8 to 12 inches away
- Cries to show discomfort or fatigue; smiles, gurgles and coos when happy or excited
- Plays with his own hands
- Smiles and laughs when talked to
- Responds to caregivers faces, smiles and voices
5 - 8 months:
- Actively seeks interaction
- Starts to show interest in another child
- Searches surroundings for people and new items
- Laughs at funny faces
- Shows anger when toy is taken away
- Smiles and laughs at baby games
- Starts to imitate the inflection in people's voices
- Shows pleasure and displeasure
- Cries when separated from caregiver
- Prefers familiar persons to others; may fear strangers
8 - 12 months:
- Plays and tests social reactions of others by doing "unusual" or "naughty" things
- Smiles at, pats or even kisses his own image in mirror
- May refuse to be confined in crib or play pen
- Buries head in parent's shoulder when meeting new people
- Shows moods by facial expressions
- Plays interactive games such as peek-a-boo and patty-cake
- Seeks approval and responds to "no"
- Offers toys to others
- Helps with getting dressed and maybe putting things away
- Will search for a person, pet or item when they are mentioned
- Uses sounds, gestures and facial expressions to gain attention
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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